Dairy farmers in Texas discuss crisis today, death of 18,000 cows

By Alyson Kennedy
and Josefina Otero
May 15, 2023
Alyson Kennedy, SWP candidate for mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, talks with Quincey Kinser at feed store in Dimmitt after 18,000 cows were killed, worker injured, in fire at South Fork Dairy.
Militant/Josefina OteroAlyson Kennedy, SWP candidate for mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, talks with Quincey Kinser at feed store in Dimmitt after 18,000 cows were killed, worker injured, in fire at South Fork Dairy.

DIMMITT, Texas — A fire quickly spread through the giant South Fork Dairy structure, a few miles outside of town here, killing some 18,000 cows and critically injuring a worker April 10. A town of 4,200, Dimmitt is the seat of Castro County in the panhandle. County Sheriff Sal Rivera told the media that a honey wagon — a piece of manure management equipment that sucks out manure and water — may have “overheated and the methane and things like that might have ignited and spread out with an explosion and a fire.”

“I was 15 miles away and I felt the aftershock from the explosion,” James Garibaldi, who lives in town, told the Militant. Smoke could be seen 80 miles away. Working people and local businesses brought meals out to the crews working at the scene for several weeks. There were flyers posted on store windows all over town publicizing a benefit organized by a local barbecue to raise money for Krysta, the worker trapped in the barn and critically injured.

The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office said the piece of equipment that caught fire was “identical to others that have burned previously,” so “there will be a more in-depth investigation.”

The dairy is owned by the Frank Brand family and has been in operation here for less than a year. It employs some 60 workers. Brand also has dairy operations in the cities of Energy and Comanche in central Texas.

“I’m out of work now because I drive a truck for a small trucking business owned by my family that delivers milk tanks from the dairy to cheese plants in Texas and New Mexico,” Javier Hernandez told us at a local cafe. He was interested in Militant articles we showed him about the fight by working people in East Palestine, Ohio, to control the cleanup and protect their health after the derailment and burn-off of toxic vinyl chloride from a Norfolk Southern train in February. He subscribed.

Texas is now the fourth-largest milk producer in the country, with 625,000 dairy cows. Castro County here has more than 59,000 cows that produced more than 147 million pounds of milk in February.

The industry has become highly concentrated. In 1975, Texas had 2,890 dairies producing about 3 billion pounds of milk. In 2020, the state had just 351 dairies that produced more than 14.8 billion pounds of milk.

“Most of the milk produced goes to cheese factories. A number of workers here drive trucks taking the milk to these companies,” Quincey Kinser, who works in a local farm feed and supply store, told the Militant. “The explosion has put a lot of them out of work besides the ones who worked at the farm.

“A lot of farmers have lost their farms because they can’t afford to farm any more,” he said. “The dairy farms use a lot of water from the Ogallala Aquifer and well water is getting very low. Prices of alfalfa and hay have skyrocketed.

“Three thousand head of cattle is considered a medium-size farm now,” he said.

Kennedy said, “We need to build a workers and farmers alliance. What you describe is the result of a capitalist system that prioritizes the interests of the wealthy dairy farm owners. That is why we need a party of our own, a labor party based on our unions, to fight for the interests of workers and small farmers in cities and small towns.”

Kinser got a Militant subscription and a copy of the new Pathfinder book The Low Point of Labor Resistance Is Behind Us: The Socialist Workers Party Looks Forward by SWP leaders Jack Barnes, Mary-Alice Waters and Steve Clark. He was interested in reading the section on the importance of working people defending our constitutional freedoms today.

Pointing to the recent felony indictment of former President Donald Trump in New York, Kinser said, “If they can do that to Trump, they can do it to us.”

During the one-day solidarity trip here, party members sold six Militant subscriptions and three copies of the new book. Other subscribers included a woman hardware store worker whose family lives in Ukraine and a worker who had recently spent a stretch behind bars.